A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers by Victor LaValle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There have been several anthologies inspired by the current occupant of the White House, but this one is the best I've read so far. There are several very good stories in here, and a number of them, in my view, are award-worthy.
"Our Aim is Not To Die," A. Merc Rustad. This is the best story in the book, bar none. It deals with the oppression and erasure of trans people in the name of a totalitarian government indoctrinating for the Ideal Citizen (white, straight, male). However, in its tense narrative of fomenting a revolution, it also turns a prominent SF trope on its head: the AI depicted herein is not, as is so often the case, committed to destroying humanity. It is committed to saving them, specifically positioning itself as a champion for vulnerable people. Rereading the story again, it made me tear up a little; it is damned powerful.
"Read After Burning," Maria Dahvana Headley. This is hard to classify; I don't know if it's fantasy or magic realism, or both. But this tale of an underground library after the apocalypse, and librarians who tattoo words and magic on their skin and into their bodies, can be summed up in one paragraph: This is what I whisper to you now, so that you will carry the story of the library, so that you will know how we made magic and how we made books out of burdens. This is to teach you how to transform loss into literature, and love into a future. It is to teach you how to make a book that will endure burning. In its own way, it's both a counterpart and a rebuttal to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
"Riverbed," Omar el Akkad. This is a story of climate change panic and Muslim internment, and a survivor returning to the camp that held her fifty years later.
"Harmony," Seanan McGuire, the story of a gay couple who end up buying a whole town and turning it into a cooperative refuge for people like them.
Finally, the dark, absurd and delightful "Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death," N.K. Jemisin's tale of oppression, a near-future updating of the biblical Ten Plagues, and genetically engineered dragons that eat vegetables laced with hot sauce. (Collard greens, y'all!) That sounds totally over the top, but just go with it. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
This is a book to rally resistance and inspire hope, which seems to be in short supply these days. Give it a try.
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